Justin Johnson, Aaron Marshall, and Erik Mauck’s 2009 documentary from R Squared is probably one of the most simplistic stories ever told but also proves to be fodder for one of the best independent documentaries I’ve ever seen, a film about an enthusiastic little girl who loves movies and is doing everything in her power to make a zombie film, the film community of critics and movie buffs that embrace her for her enthusiasm, her mom willing to do whatever it takes to feed her daughter’s ambition–as long as she goes to school, and the movie that became a cult classic in its own right because of its charming production qualities and overall creativity.
“Zombie Girl: The Movie” is an excellent and absolutely endearing documentary about the independent filmmaker (in this case a twelve year old with a dream) who wants to create a film they will love and they want everyone else to love. Emily Hagin is a small town girl who adores classic horror movies and is anxiously trying to create her own entitled “Pathogen,” and what follows is a series of frustrating, entertaining, and often surprising events in which Hagin, armed with her camcorder and best friends, works her butt off to make a great horror film and shows America what a truly driven filmmaker can do when they refuse to let limitations keep them from creating a work of love and passion. Though many in the movie are quick to insist that Emily is certainly no prodigy it’s definitely her lust for filmmaking and her drive for creating the best work possible that keeps her on the good sides of those around her including Peter Jackson’s amusement toward his movies, and her chance encounter with Harry Knowles who helped nurture her filmmaking aspirations. What blossoms among the film though is a dual story; one about a mother and daughter re-connecting and suddenly realizing that in some ways they’re growing apart.
Emily’s mother Megan has used movies to keep them bonded and intimate, but once Megan discovers she lacks any interest in making movies aside from Emily who dives in head first, the directors soon zero in on the conflict of a mom struggling to stay close to a daughter drifting away in to her hobby that could become a potential career. The other is the focus on the easy accessibility of filmmaking and how the digital and technological age has made filmmaking easy for better or for worse. Throughout the documentary there are about a dozen of Emily’s friends who proclaim they hope to make their own movie, and the enthusiasts who shed some insight on Emily’s experiences explain that whether we like it or not a new era of directors are emerging and they’re becoming younger and younger thanks to the affordability of editing software, special effects, and camera equipment. What is ultimately gained in the end is a look at a girl whose own infectious excitement and wide eyed approach toward the movie making process brings about a coming of age experience and a direction toward doing what she loves, if it involves movie making or not.
Among the special features in this new DVD edition, we’re given a six minute interview with an older Emily who recalls much of the faults of her film “Pathogen” and explains some of her favorite and more embarrassing scenes that she’s used as a guide of what not to do when producing a new film. There’s also the six minute footage of the Q&A session for the cast and crew of “Pathogen” after its premiere at the Alamo Drafthouse in 2006 that is quite entertaining and interesting, and there’s the Behind the Scenes look at Emily’s next film “The Retelling” that’s about seven minutes long exploring Emily’s advancement in to filmmaking and her explanation of some establishing shots teasing us about the premise of this new film. Last but certainly not least there’s Emily’s feature film “Pathogen”! I was glad to finally see her film in all of its glory since it’s the basis for the documentary and never actually shown complete.
“Pathogen” is very much a creative and ambitious little horror movie that works as an homage to the classic zombie movies about science gone completely awry, and a small neighborhood that feels the wave of the zombie epidemic. Ultimately as Hagins describe it: “Pathogen” is what it is, it’s a mini-budget horror movie that’s fun and occasionally creepy, just don’t sit down expecting “Dawn of the Dead” or “Return of the Living Dead.” It’s a cute and admirable product of a horror lover who did her best and pulled off more than most twelve year olds do. When I was twelve I was scamming on girls and trying to wake up early to catch cartoons on TV, “Zombie Girl: The Movie” explores the journey in to making a movie and a young girl doing whatever it takes to make her dream a reality and for that it’s a genuinely entertaining and charming documentary worthy of its acclaim.